In Defence of ELLE Magazine and the Rebranding of Feminism

When ELLE magazine launched their "Rebranding Feminism" project last month, there was an uproar among the feminist community.

When ELLE magazine launched their "Rebranding Feminism" project last month, there was an uproar among the feminist community.

The vast majority were irritated to say the least and opinions could be summarised with one or more of the following: Why does it need to change? What's wrong with feminism? Who says it needs to change: a fashion magazine?!

It provoked a backlash from writers such as Lucy Mangan and Hadley Freeman who slated ELLE's efforts as attempts to make feminism "softer".

I too was dubious about the rebrands on two accounts. Firstly, that the efforts were made by a mainstream magazine and secondly, by the wording. "Rebranding". The word itself suggests that something is outdated and essentially, not working.

It is easy to see why this has irritated so many who, for so long, have been part of this community. To suggest that what they are a part of and the work that they are doing is not quite adequate is little more than a slap in the face.

But despite this insensitive wording and despite the fact that many of the women I respect and admire agree with Mangan and Freeman, I have come to realise that both the rebranding of feminism and the attempt by ELLE magazine to do this is a positive thing.

If you think today's feminism does not need what Freeman scathingly calls a "makeover" then consider whether feminism is perfect as it is.

It is still seen by many as an exclusive club that you have to be a member to have access to. There is still "rebranding" to be done if there are many women out there that don't identify as a feminist.

At the ELLE conference on Monday, Ruby Tandoh said that she didn't engage with feminism previously because she saw it as too intellectual. As something that wasn't for her.

Freeman says in her article, instead of rebranding feminism that "some people just need an education." Yes: people do need to be educated. They need to be educated about feminism and what that means. The information should also be brought to them in as engaging a mode as possible, just as ELLE's campaign does.

Rebranding doesn't mean giving it what Freeman describes as "a makeover, a softer sound or even a gold necklace." ELLE aren't accessorizing it. They are making it more accessible, more understandable.

Whether we like it or not, there is still a stigma attached to feminism as only being for intellectual, white, middle class women. And if the last couple of weeks of debate over the Lily Allen video has shown anything it is that feminism is still not as intersectional as it needs to be. It still needs to be welcoming to women of all classes, walks of life and all races.

Rebranding it means bringing it to the mainstream as ELLE has done. However, this seems to be precisely why these writers have an issue with the project. As Freeman points out, "Feminism is having a trendy moment, you see."

This attitude is the attitude of many and it reeks of pettiness. It's reminiscent of the stance of devout music fans when their favourite band suddenly gets picked up by Radio One.

Feminism isn't anyone's to own or to like first. Surely, making feminism trendy is precisely what needs to happen.

Without people, there is no feminism. Without numbers engaging with feminism the current movement can't move forward. It has to evolve just as it evolved before.

The answer to whether I think feminism needs rebranding is yes. Whether ELLE chose the right wording is debatable. Perhaps, "reworking", "updating" or even "adapting" would have been more apt. It is not a perfect project. A series of adverts and a singular conference does not a feminist magazine make.

However, the sentiment is there and to jump at the throats of the editor that tries to bring feminism into the mainstream media is not in the correct spirit. We need to look at the bigger picture and recognise how powerful popular feminism could be.

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